A Philadelphian Love Affair

By The Way - Weekly Columns

ByTheMinNFL

By Jody Jamieson. It’s been 13 years since the Eagles were in the Super Bowl. Last time it was those damn Patriots that crushed my dreams. I was a few months short of my 21st birthday. Full of oppressed optimism, I went into that game expecting the Eagles to lose, but like a first time lottery player, already spending the money in my head and imagining the celebrations that would come if the Eagles got the job done. Fast forward to 2018 and it’s much the same. Since Carson Wentz’s knee fell off in Los Angeles a month or two ago, I’m full of my usual pessimism, yet daring to dream. Being as Eagles fan is a rollercoaster I have no-one to blame for but myself. And Donovan McNabb. Watching him in his rookie season running around at the quarterback position just enticed me. “Who can stop this?” I wondered to myself. The team was 5-11 that year, so I should have figured that out quickly. Though in fairness McNabb didn’t play the whole year. From then on though I was hooked, and about to start a love-hate relationship that would give me some everlasting sporting memories, though with more heartache than joy. My first playoff experience came the next year. A dominant win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was fun. Then Ron Dixon returned the opening kick off for a touchdown the week after against the Giants, and the annual nut punches began in earnest. The NFC Championship Game became the place where my dreams went to die. Losing to the Greatest Show on Turf was one thing. Kurt Warner and that Rams Hall of Fame offense in the Dome was an understandable loss. One of those losses you get over reasonably quickly, despite wondering what could have been. Tampa getting revenge to shut down Veterans Stadium the year after wasn’t. Ronde Barber is still running on that interception return in my mind. The next year was going to be different. A first season in the new Lincoln Financial Field was the perfect setting for a Super Bowl run. We even celebrated the Panthers knocking off the Rams in the Divisional Round as Jake Delhomme’s offense would be much easier to handle than the St Louis juggernaut. They were in fairness. Carolina won 14-3. Another year. Another trip to the NFC title game. Four in a row. Three in a row at home. Surely this was the time? Not in my mind. I was prepared to live my life on this mortal coil with an annual dick kick at the hands of some NFC upstart who books their ticket to the Super Bowl at the Eagles expense. Plus the Falcons had Michael Vick. A guy who flashed brilliance and haplessness in unpredictable doses. The script was already written. The Buccs and Panthers had done it with defense, but this time it would be offense that would ruin everything. Vick was surely gonna come to town and throw for 200 yards, run for 200 more, and make me wish this sport had never been invented. Alas the Eagles nullified Vick, got their own offense going and ended up not just winning, but winning well. First Super Bowl in 24 years? Uncharted territory for Eagles fans of a certain age. Absolutely uncharted for fans who had dedicated a whole five years like me. Standing in the Eagles way in Super Bowl XXXIX were of course the New England Patriots, looking to win their second successive championship and third in four years. Sound familiar to anyone? The Eagles had lost Terrell Owens for the end of the regular season and the NFC playoffs, but he was back for the big one, and a shot at glory. Owens had a heroic performance in Jacksonville that night, and really deserved better, despite everything that went down afterwards. The Eagles were turnover happy and infuriating early in this game, with a McNabb interception in the redzone nullified by a defensive penalty. Not to be deterred, McNabb threw one straight to Rodney Harrison on the next play. They committed another turnover on the next drive via LJ Smith’s fumble, yet not only were the Eagles tied going into the fourth quarter, they scored the first points of the game after all this idiocy. Perhaps the Eagles were going to pull it out despite themselves on the back of yet more dominant defense. Fourth quarter Tom Brady showed up as usual, putting 10 on the board quickly. Then the drive. That fucking drive. Never has a successful touchdown drive been more maddening. Down 10 with 5:40 left and the ball on the Eagles 21, the offense sauntered down the field. No urgency when we wanted no huddle. The Eagles huddled on every play of that god forsaken drive. By the two minute warning, they were barely in field goal range. McNabb finally figured out there was actually a title at stake and should actually hurry this thing along, firing off a 30 yard touchdown pass to the mostly useless Greg Lewis. Lewis was one of those receivers who was mostly terrible, yet always seemed to thrive against the Patriots for some inexplicable reason. The Eagles did see the ball once more with a chance to tie or win. On their own 4. With 46 seconds remaining. And no timeouts. The first pass was for no gain in bounds. Fantastic. The second was incomplete. The third was tipped and intercepted. It’s taken me 13 years to go back and watch a single highlight of that game, for the purposes of this little piece, which as I proof read it right now has gone way too long. I had repressed a lot of these memories. I had honestly forgotten about most of this game except that nonchalant drive and me jumping up and down like Yosemite Sam in my living room. I still hold it against Andy Reid. I stopped caring years ago if McNabb was puking in the huddle or not. Maybe if Reid had made them go no huddle we’d know the answer to one of the worst “he said, she said” mysteries in sports history. While the Patriots became a dynasty, the Eagles ended their “glory period” with one Super Bowl appearance and no rings. They finished bottom of the NFC East the year after, aided by the infamous McNabb and Owens feud. Philly only made one more NFC title game until this year. Nine years ago they came from 24-6 down to somehow take a one point lead against the Arizona Cardinals out in the desert, before losing 32-25. Their win over the Giants the week previous was the last Eagles playoff win till this season. Despite all the doom and gloom, the Eagles have given me some amazing memories which keep me coming back for more, even in the playoffs. 4th and 26 to Freddie Mitchell to save (and then win) against the Packers. The Atlanta win at the Linc, when even Chad Lewis scored. Twice! That Giants win I mentioned was the last game in the old Meadowlands and they entered the game as Super Bowl Champs (I’ve seen Eli Manning and his vacant expression win two Super Bowls. How is that possible?) and it was an enjoyable send-off. If the Vet had to close under a cloud of misery, the adopted Philadelphian in me was more than happy to see Big Blue share the pain. In the regular season there’s been some great moments. Ask any Cowboys fan you know about 44-6 and it’ll make your day a little better. The Miracle At The New Meadowlands is a game I’ll take to my grave. As an Aberdeen fan who stayed till the end of a 9-0 loss to Celtic at Parkhead, I was still watching down 31-10 with less than 8 minutes to play. If there is a heaven, that comeback is playing on a loop. Brian Westbrook’s punt return to beat the Giants in 2003. Punching the Giants in the balls will never get old. The Monday Night Massacre in Washington where the Eagles hung 45 on them by half time. The Monday Night opener in Washington too a few years back where Chip Kelly’s offense looked unstoppable. That was fun for a while. This is probably the part where I should make a confession. Despite my love of all things Philadelphia Eagles (and the Phillies in baseball, which was a natural progression when picking up that sport in 2001) that I’m terrified of flying. Like Alge Crumpler when he sees Brian Dawkins scared. I’ve been on a plane, but for whoever accompanies me, it’s like a form of weird adult fetish babysitting without the fetish part. I flew from Edinburgh to Belfast a couple of years ago and was terrified. It’s a 35 minute flight. I got the ferry home. Point being, I’ve never been to Philadelphia, or America for that matter. Maybe one day I’ll get over it. I’ve always dreamed of going over in September to catch the Eagles home opener and a Phillies home stand in one go. I’m sure I’ll get some rational feedback to this. I know it’s the safest way to travel. I get it. But if there’s one thing I also get, it’s that I haven’t been able to solve an irrational fear with rational thinking. I love a city I’ve never seen in person. Some of you might say that’s a blessing in disguise. Screw you if you’re one of those people. Despite never having seen them in person, my love for the Eagles has never faded. Even when they kept screwing up the big games. Even when it became clear that Chip Kelly was in fact a dipshit. Even when Andy Reid’s clock management messed up games for over a decade, I still stuck with it. I wasn’t one of those locals who were born into it and were blighted by a terrible affliction. I subjected myself to this stupidity. Yet I don’t regret it one bit. This season has been my favourite Eagles season to date. There’s been some fun ones that have ultimately ended in heartbreak, and there’s still a pretty good chance this one will go the same way, but something feels different with this group. This is a team that lost All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters and the middle linebacker in Jordan Hicks in the same game and didn’t miss a beat. They lost swiss army knife Darren Sproles in Week 3 to a torn ACL and broken arm (on the same play!) and still had a top class running game. They lost Carson Wentz to an ACL tear with three weeks left in the regular season, yet he still could win the NFL MVP. But when Wentz went down the season looked shot. Nick Foles came in and made a big throw to wrap up the win against the Rams, before putting in a four touchdown performance to beat the Giants the week after. Any hope that the forced change at quarterback would be yet another improbably seamless transition was dashed when Foles looked horrible in a win against the Raiders on Christmas night. The Eagles wrapped up the #1 seed at the same time it looked like the season was completely fucked. Foles was so awful despite the win, he played a few series against the Cowboys in a dead rubber in Week 17 just to try and get something going. It didn’t work. Everyone wrote off the Eagles against the Falcons in the playoffs. Nick Foles started like the train wreck he was the previous two games, but got away with it. Doug Pederson and the coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for dragging him back from the abyss mid game and getting him in some sort of rhythm. Foles wasn’t great in that game by any stretch of the imagination, but ended up fine, and that was enough to give his team a chance. A chance they duly snapped up, albeit it in a game that wasn’t great for your health. Against Minnesota on Sunday it was much the same story in the build-up. The Eagles had no shot. Foles was going to be eaten alive by the #1 defense in the league. Some even opined that the Vikings could win this game even if their offense didn’t show up. More sensible people said “first to 20 wins” which was a reasonable conclusion as two top tier defenses took on two shaky offenses, but offenses who have weapons if they get in sync. Vikings get the ball first, and march down the field, scoring a touchdown on a busted coverage. Always a great plan in a likely low scoring struggle to give up seven points cheaply to start the game. Then the absurdity began. Patrick Robinson takes an interception to the house. LeGarrette Blount runs over the defense to give the Eagles the lead. Foles throws a perfect deep ball on Alshon Jeffrey’s double move. The offense stays aggressive with little time left in the first half up two scores and adds a Jake Elliott field goal. Foles to Torrey Smith on a flea flicker. Jeffrey scores again. Game is a laugher. There were people having awesome sex somewhere in the world on Sunday night who weren’t as happy as I was. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Nick Foles played a game on a level even Carson Wentz struggled to reach this season. His throws under pressure were fantastic. His deep ball was pretty and accurate. Sure, he threw a few incompletions, but didn’t throw a bad ball all day. An almost flawless performance by a historically, and often consistently, flawed quarterback. On February 4th I have no idea which Nick Foles will show up. We’ve seen the entire spectrum in a short window. From one of the best played QB games of the season on Sunday, to the guy who could barely complete a forward pass against the Raiders. If Super Bowl Sunday Nick Foles is right in the middle of that spectrum, it gives the Eagles a chance. Anything better, and there’s real hope that the Eagles will finally win the big one. Whatever Foles takes on the Patriots, the rest of the team is thriving in it’s current role. It’s current role of playing (mostly) excellent defense, pounding the rock, and consistently being written off by everyone outside the City of Brotherly Love. The defense has given up 17 points in two playoff games. Seven of those came on an Atlanta drive that began on the Philadelphia 18 yard line after a disaster on a punt return. They have given up one scoring drive in the last 6 quarters. The running game has been good enough against two tough defenses to keep the opposition honest. Many thought that you could just put eight or nine in the box to slow the Eagles down and dare Foles to beat you. It worked for a while for the Falcons, till Foles started doing enough to make the secondary think. What has really galvanised this team is its underdog status. Sure, the dog masks are corny, but so are Terrible Towels and Rally Monkeys and all the other nonsense gimmicks that became iconic identities for teams who would go onto win championships. This team has played with a chip on it’s shoulder and a siege mentality that has taken the Eagles past two teams on paper they had no right to beat given the current situation. We’ll break down the Super Bowl matchup in time. We all know about the Patriots and their decade and a half of dominance. We all know Tom Brady is rather good. We all know that Bill Belichick knows what he’s doing. But what we also know is this New England team has enough holes to be exploited on both sides of the ball. The Patriots only ever tend to have trouble with teams who can get regular pressure rushing four, which happens to be the strength of this defense. And Eagles fans are familiar with a ho-hum quarterback from the NFC East who was able to beat these guys in the big one. Twice. The Eagles will be written off yet again. And they wouldn’t have it any other way. In many ways, this has been a free hit of a post season considering injuries to Wentz and Peters and Hicks and Sproles and others. Two down. One to go. Fly Eagles Fly.